Social goals and social action are increasingly framed by a host of ambiguously egalitarian notions. The ambiguity of notions like ‘social cohesion’ originates principally in the tentative accommodation of competition and social justice that former radical approaches considered in fundamental contradiction. The social cohesion terminology has become part of political realism and the question is whether such notions are or could be fuelling practices that promote social justice, overcoming the ambiguity/contradiction of the different/competing interpretations nebulously juxtaposed in their fluid definition. This article comments on interrelated ambiguities in the content of social cohesion, governance and tolerance starting with a reformulated goal (social cohesion) which necessitates new means of implementation (‘new governance’) that entail the dominance of non‐conflictual social relations (tolerance). Social cohesion, governance and tolerance are Janus‐faced concepts, full of restrictions and contradictions but also full of possibilities related to the mobilizing potential of their inherently positive meaning. Social cohesion and governance would become real stakes if radical discourse and politics tried to invest them with content and meaning that would effectively transgress their legitimating function of conservative social regulation, and create massive demand for more social justice both in terms of redistributive justice and of democracy.